Yitro, Exodus 18:1–20:23
Parents Make It To The Top Ten
The placement of the commandment to honor our parents in the midst of the Ten Commandments highlights the complex ways in which parents serve as our bridge between God and the world.
By Rabbi Bradley Artson
Each of us is descended from parents. Without exception, a man and a woman were involved in your inception and birth, and generally in your childhood, teen years and early adulthood as well. How are we to respond to these people; how should we adjust to our own increasing powers of understanding, physical strength and financial ability in the light of the gratitude and respect we owe our parents for the care we received at an earlier age?
Owing Them Honor
That we owe our parents honor and reverence is a 'given' in Jewish tradition. The mitzvah of kibbud av va-em (honoring the father and mother) is the Fifth Commandment of the Aseret Ha-Dib'rot (the Ten Commandments), standing halfway between the first four--dealing with the Jewish relationship with God--and the last five--establishing standards of social morality. That placement speaks of the insight that parents represent a bridge between God and the world, between our own personal drama of Creation and our entry into the world of human interaction and expectation.
The Talmud teaches that three partners are involved in the birth of every person--God, mother and father. One of the roots, then, of our obligation to honor our parents is their role as a pre-eminent source of life. Parents represent God, not only for their role in our inception and birth, but also on a psychological level.
Parents teach, through their raising of children, that the world is reliable and basically good. Each time a mother comforts a screaming baby, each time a father offers a bottle to a hungry infant, the child receives a concrete lesson that they are not abandoned in a meaningless void, that needs are met, that compassion and love are real and potent. In nurturing their children, parents establish the emotional base for a subsequent relationship between their child and the Sacred.